A plan that would create higher highs and lower lows in the water levels of Lake Ontario faces opposition from critics fearful of hits to shoreline property values and potential effects on recreational boating.
But the International Joint Commission’s recommendation, issued this week, finds widespread support from environmental groups who say the new water-level regulation would aim to repair some ecological damage by finally taking into consideration environmental issues.
The International Joint Commission, which controls the water level in Lake Ontario by adjusting the flow of water through a dam in the St. Lawrence River, forwarded its recommendations involving “Plan 2014,” in the works since 2001, to the federal governments in Canada and the United States.
The plan would create “more natural” and more frequent fluctuations in water levels with higher highs and lower lows, according to the commission, which regulates boundary waters between the two countries.
“We have considered not only the advice of scientists and engineers, but also listened to a great deal of public input from home owners, boaters, shippers and the people who live on and use these waters,” Commissioner Lana Pollack said in a written statement.
Some critics say the commission failed to incorporate into their plan some of what they heard.
State Sen. George D. Maziarz said the commission, in its recommendation, ignores the concerns of property owners on Lake Ontario’s southern shore who face losses in property values because of an expected increase in erosion.
“We need a new balance in protecting our freshwater resources and protecting our real property,” Maziarz, R-Newfane, said in a written statement, “but this plan is severely lacking and should be rejected by our federal government.”
Niagara County Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson, said the higher levels of water would erode shoreline properties, which are often some of the highest-valued pieces of property in the county.
“It could very easily cause reductions in assessed value,” Godfrey said, noting such changes would shift the tax burden to other property owners in the county.
The commission also refused to address what will be increased costs to property owners for shoreline protection from storm surges.
“If you’re going to cause us damage, give us something to protect ourselves. And they gave us no protection, and that is the atrocity that I feel and that others feel,” Godfrey said.
Some areas, including Wilson harbor, have seen shortened boating seasons in the last couple of years because of low water levels, though all sides admit there is also a need for increased dredging to remedy the problem.
Under the plan, the commission promised higher water levels in the fall season, which would extend the boating season, though there would be a trade-off in that some summers would see lower water levels. Roughly two in every 100 summers would experience extremely low levels, which would require ships to carry smaller loads, the commission said.
One of the biggest benefits of the plan would involve wetland restoration. About 64,000 acres of shoreline wetlands have been damaged under current regulations.
Five environmental and conservation groups – Audubon New York, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and Save the River – came out in joint support of the commission’s recommended plan, which they touted as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to combine sustainable shoreline management, climate change resilience and ongoing economic benefit.”